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C of I student receives grant to study native trout

April 30, 2015

Nestled among a crevice in the Boise foothills beneath Bogus Basin Road lies tiny Dry Creek. The small stream is nearly undetectable from the road, yet it houses a treasure to ichthyologists—genetically pure Columbia River redband trout.

Recently, College of Idaho junior Sarah Walsh was awarded a $1,500 grant from the Northwest Scientific Association to aid her research of redband trout population genetics in the Dry Creek. Out of a field of 73 proposals, Walsh’s project was one of 10 awarded funding.

“I was so thrilled,” Walsh said of receiving the grant. “I was so honored and excited.”

Click here to check out a photo gallery of Walsh and the Dry Creek research team.

Walsh’s excitement is evident for a project that she sees being continued by future generations of C of I students. After all, that is how she got involved with redband trout.

It all started when Walsh was a sophomore in Dr. Chris Walser’s ecology, evolution and diversity class. Walser took his class to explore Dry Creek, an area where he and C of I alumna Shelby Richins ’14 were conducting research on redband trout in conjunction with Trout Unlimited.

“I was excited about that—I love outdoor stuff,” Walsh said. “I guess I liked fish, but now I love fish. I asked [Walser] if this was something I could be involved with and, honestly, I just kept nagging him.”

Walsh picked up where Richins left off, interning with Trout Unlimited last summer. She learned how to catch fish using electrofishing techniques, and to collect fin-clips to be sent off to the lab at Idaho Fish and Game for analysis. She also spent time in Nevada and southern Idaho studying what water temperatures Lahontan cutthroat trout thrive in. And Walsh has cherished the opportunity to make business connections and learn how to conduct meaningful undergraduate research.

“Very few people get this opportunity, and it’s just a dream come true,” she said. “It’s something I am extremely grateful for—the opportunity to be exposed to different avenues of potential career and life paths, and to be able to have hands-on experience and apply that to what I’m learning in class.”

With the money from the research grant, which IDFG is matching, more fin-clips of redband trout will be sampled. And more samples will lead to more information and better results.

In addition to looking at population genetics, Walser and Walsh hope to explore how redband trout can survive at low oxygen levels and see if the culvert at Bogus Basing Road is a barrier for fish trying to swim back upstream.

“The research questions are interesting,” Walser said. “But what is more important is providing students with research experience. Dry Creek is such a great place to take students to teach them about field research and field ecology.”

Redband trout are a subspecies of the rainbow trout and steelhead family. They are noted for their yellowish, speckled bodies with a red lateral line. They are the only type of fish found in Dry Creek, and they have the ability to survive in warm water. Even with the harsh conditions in Dry Creek and recent dry water-years, the redband trout population density hasn’t experienced significant losses, Walsh said.

While Walsh has a passion for conservation, she wasn’t always in the frenzied flow of fish research. She originally came to the C of I to follow a path in medicine.

“This isn’t even a path that I knew existed,” Walsh said. “I came in here and thought I had a plan and knew what I wanted, but then an opportunity arose. And I think that is the coolest thing, that there is opportunity on this campus.”

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit